Category Archives: Feast Days

On Ascension Day, 2024…

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The prophet Elijah, ascending up to Heaven – with the help of a chariot of fire…

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Ascension Day always comes on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter. (In 2024, that was on May 9.) It’s a major Feast Day – ranking right up there with Easter and Pentecost – and commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. The Gospel reading for the day is Luke 24:44-53:

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you… Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day…”   Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven

Note the words that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures,” followed by the words saying that the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” That’s Good News!

(“Good news” being the Old English translation of the Greek word for Gospel…)

And speaking of the great joy that can come when you let Jesus open up your mind… (As in, “the Bible was designed to expand your mind.”) In my 2014 post on the day I noted some people have a problem with such Bible miracles in general. That includes the Ascension, but it also includes the whole idea that there is “life after life.” I too had a big problem with that idea – “Is there really life after death?” – after a grueling event years ago. My nephew was riding in a car, the car plunged into the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta, and he was trapped inside.

That tragic death shook my faith, it made me wonder. The usual platitudes offered no comfort at all, but eventually I did find some comfort in the First law of thermodynamics. That law of physics says that “energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.” Put another way, energy is neither created nor destroyed, but simply changes form. So I figured that if the human soul is a form of energy – which seems self-evident – then it stands to reason that it is neither created nor destroyed, but simply “changes form.”

Which brings up another question, “Where was my soul before I was born?” (As in Jeremiah 1:5, where God said to the prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”) That’s one of those Rabbit Trails I love exploring, but they are said to detract from that Unity & Coherence rule that writers are supposed to follow. So, back to the Ascension of Jesus…

I found two good articles on the subject, Why Does the Ascension of Jesus Matter? – BibleProject, and The Ascension of Jesus – What was the Meaning and Significance? But then there’s the Wikipedia article, Ascension of Jesus. It refers to the Apostle’s Creed, which says in part that Jesus “ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” This idea “provided an interpretative frame for Jesus’ followers to make sense of his death and the resurrection appearances.” Or as theologian Justus Knecht wrote:

Our Lord went up Body and Soul into heaven in the sight of His apostles, by His own power, to take possession of His glory, and to be our Advocate and Mediator in heaven with the Father. He ascended as Man, as Head of the redeemed, and has prepared a dwelling in heaven for all those who follow in His steps.

In other words, if Jesus hadn’t “ascended to Heaven,” we wouldn’t have a place to stay when we get there. (By faith, expressed in Romans 10:9, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Period.)

And speaking of ascensions, the Daily Office for the Eve of Ascension includes Second Kings, 2:1-15. That tells the story of Elijah being “taken up” in a chariot of fire. He was traveling with Elisha, and knew he was about to be taken up. Elisha asked that Elijah grant him a “double portion of your spirit.” Meaning how Elijah got taken up may have been for Elisha’s benefit:

In taking Elijah to heaven, God foreshadowed Christ’s ascension Perhaps those who saw Jesus taken up from the Mount of Olives and hidden in a cloud would have been reminded of Elijah’s departure (Acts 1:6–9). Those disciples who witnessed Jesus’ ascension served God with dedication the rest of their lives, just as Elisha did.

Which is another way of saying that Jesus wasn’t “taken up” on Ascension Day for His benefit. Instead it happened before witnesses so they could share the story. Because of their testimony, we – over two thousand years later – can benefit from it in such a way as to “expand our mind from the Bible as designed.” (Instead of trying to shape God in our image rather than the other way around, thus turning Genesis 1:17 on its head.) Happy Ascension Day!

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Jesus’ ascension to heaven,” by John Singleton Copley

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The upper image is courtesy of “elijah taken up in a chariot of fire – images.” This image came with a page on “Pieter Symonsz. Potter.” See also Wikipedia, on the prophet Elijah, and on “Pieter Symonsz Potter” (1597-1652), a Dutch Golden Age painter.

The Book of Common Prayer reference: The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

“Feast days” are designated days on the liturgical (church) calendar “set aside to commemorate events, saints, or doctrines that are important in the life of the Church. These can range from Solemnities, which are the highest-ranking feast days like Easter and Christmas, to optional memorials that celebrate lesser-known saints.” Feast Days: Celebrating the Church’s Calendar.

“’Good news’ being the Old English…” Per Wikipedia.

Re: “The Bible was designed to expand your mind.” (To the tune of, “If it does not fit, you must acquit.”) For a more serious note, see These Zen Buddhist Koans Will Open Your Mind – HuffPost. Also John 10:16, where Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.”

For this post I borrowed On Ascension Day, from 2014, Ascension Day 2017 – “Then He opened their minds,” and from 2023, “Her spirit returned” – and Ascension Day. The 2023 post talked about Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, set out in Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26, and Luke 8:40–56. In Luke 8:54-55, Jesus took the daughter by the hand, told her to get up, “and her spirit returned.” But returned from where? Where had it been?

And a note on Genesis 1:27, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Which leads me to see God not as an Old Man with a Long Flowing Beard, but rather as “the Ultimate Married Couple.” Which could explain why men and women spend so much effort trying to “get together.” (You know, that and the hormones…)

The lower image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, Ascension of Jesus

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On St. Mark – 2024

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St. Mark, second from the right.  (His symbol – a lion – sleeps in the right foreground…) 

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Thursday, April 25 was the Feast Day for St. Mark, and – just to set the record straight – he wrote the first of the four Gospels. So why is he listed second, behind Matthew? It’s a story of his being “dissed” – disrespected – but eventually getting recognized for his singular contribution. That was thanks to Bible scholars who turned open-minded enough to “dig deeper.”

So you could say his is a “Cinderella story,” of success after a lowly beginning.

One reason for the early “diss” might be that his was the shortest Gospel. Another might be that his Greek was clumsy, not at all elegant. (“Short and clumsy” are hard to overcome.) And early on in Church history St. Augustine called Mark “the drudge and condenser” of Matthew. And since Mark’s written Greek was “clumsier and more awkward” than the more-polished writing of Matthew, Luke and John, his was the “least cited Gospel in the early Christian period.” 

But Mark is a Cinderella story, and “this Cinderella finally got the glass slipper,” even though that had to wait until the 19th century. That’s when Bible scholars finally noticed that the other three Gospels all cited material from Mark, but “he does not do the same for them.” Their conclusion? Mark started the process and set the pattern of and for the other three Gospels.  In turn, since that time Mark’s Gospel “has become the most studied and influential.”

As to Mark the author, he is generally identified as the same John Mark who “carried water to the house where the Last Supper took place” in Mark 14:13, or as the “young man who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested” in Mark 14:51. See also Acts 12:25:  “Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.” As to when he wrote his Gospel, the consensus is: Right after the First Jewish Revolt, which ended with Roman armies sacking Jerusalem. That explains why he wrote such a “bleak and frightening picture.” It reflected the persecution his target audience was going through. That included – but was not necessarily limited to – the Church of Alexandria, in Egypt, “one of the most important episcopal sees of Early Christianity.”

On the other hand, there’s some debate about where Mark’s Gospel really ends. In other words, is the Great Commission at the end of his Gospel authentic? (See Mark 16:14–18.)

According to some critics … Jesus never speaks with his disciples after his resurrection. They argue that the original Gospel of Mark ends at [16:8] with the women leaving the tomb.

To review, Mark 16:8 says the women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That could be a bad place to end a Gospel of hope, so some scholars think a later redactor added more after Mark 16:8.

One scholar said that if the Gospel really ended at 16:8, Mark had painted a “bleak and frightening picture.” But he did so – the scholar said – because that was just what Mark’s main audience was going through at the time. In turn, ending his Gospel at 16:8 merely reflected that great persecution. In other words, Mark didn’t candy coat the trials and tribulations that all followers of Jesus can expect to go through. He didn’t pull his punches, but talked about life as it really was at the time, and a dose of reality is healthy if you’re going to get on in this world.

So what’s the Good News, the full Gospel? For one thing there’s John 6:37, where Jesus said He would never turn away anyone who came to Him. Then there’s Romans 10:9, where the Apostle Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (No ifs, ands, or buts.)

And that applies even if sometimes you do end up arguing with God

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Jacob wrestling with the Angel” – arguing with God – and so became a new creation

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The upper image is courtesy of Peter Paul Rubens: The Four Evangelists, which noted:  “Rubens portrayed the four evangelists while working together on their texts.  An angel helps them…   Each gospel author can be identified by an attribute.  The attributes were derived from the opening verses of the gospels.  From left to right: Luke (bull), Matthew (man [angel]), Mark (lion), and John (eagle).”

The Book of Common Prayer reference: The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

“Feast days” are designated days on the liturgical (church) calendar “set aside to commemorate events, saints, or doctrines that are important in the life of the Church. These can range from Solemnities, which are the highest-ranking feast days like Easter and Christmas, to optional memorials that celebrate lesser-known saints.” Feast Days: Celebrating the Church’s Calendar.

Re: Mark’s inelegant Greek. Garry Wills, in his book “What Jesus Meant,” said Mark’s original Koine was a rough-hewn, “pidgin” or marketplace Greek, often clumsy and muddled so much that translators invariably “try to give more churchiness to the evangelists.” Pages xi to xii, “Note on translation:”

In koine, as in any pidgin language, niceties tend to be lost. Words are strung together, often without connectives, to get across a basic meaning… When the meaning is obscure in such a simple language, it is less often because of any sublime meaning conveyed than from mere linguistic clumsiness.

In writing this post I borrowed from past posts, including: From 2015, On St. Mark’s “Cinderella story,” from 2016. (See also Cinderella story – Idioms.) After that, More on “arguing with God” – and St. Mark as Cinderella, from back at the beginning of COVID, On St. Mark, 2020 – and today’s “plague,” and from last year, On Saints Mark, Philip and James – 2023.

The lower image, courtesy of Wikipedia, is Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Louis Leloir (1865). Leloir (1843-1884), was a a French painter specializing in genre and history paintings. (As to the “new creation,” in the course of wrestling, the angel – representing God – changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Genesis 32:22-31 CEV.)

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On Doubting Thomas Sunday, 2024 – and More?

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The Rockox Triptych” – The central panel shows the original Doubting Thomas…  

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April 14, 2024 – Last Sunday, April 7, went by the name “Second Sunday of Easter.” Or the second Sunday of the Easter Season. (Eastertide, the church season that runs the 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.) But that Second Sunday also goes by a number of other names. Like “Low Sunday,” because of the normally-low church attendance after the high attendance of Easter Day. Yet another (and more exotic) name is “Quasimodo Sunday.” But that’s not because of Quasimodo, the guy known as the “Hunchback of Notre Dame:”

Instead, the name comes from a Latin translation of the beginning of First Peter 2:2 , a traditional “introit” used in churches on this day. First Peter 2:2 begins – in English and depending on the translation – “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile…” [Or, “pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”] In Latin the verse reads: “Quasi modo geniti infantes…” 

So an introit is – in one definition – part of the usual opening for a church service on the Second Sunday of Easter. And (to give some background), that introduction follows the call in First Peter Chapter 1 to “be holy,” since we have been “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable.” (Through faith in Jesus.) And the first two verses of First Peter Chapter 2 read – to give an even fuller background – “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (With verse 3, “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”)

Latin was the language of western churches for centuries, and for Catholics some 1,900 years – until the middle of the 20th century. And in the Latin “geniti” translates as “newborn,” while the translation of “infantes” seems self-evident. Thus here “quasi modo” roughly translates, “As if in the manner” of newborn babes. Meaning in turn that just we expect babies to grow up, we should also expect baby Christians to do the same. God doesn’t want you stay an “infant in Christ,” as Paul noted in 1st Corinthians 3:2. You don’t want to stay a boot-camp Christian, a Biblical literalist who never learns anything about the Bible “beyond the fundamentals.”

Which brings us back to the Second Sunday of Easter, also called Doubting Thomas Sunday. That’s because the Gospel reading is always John 20:19-31, which “recounts the story of Christ appearing to the Apostle Thomas in order to dispel the latter’s doubt about the Resurrection.” But we shouldn’t be too hard on Thomas for his doubting. In a sense most if not all Christians face their own “doubting moments” in their lives. But as I said last year on the same subject, “there’s something to be said for having doubts and then overcoming them.”

You could think of it as a form of resistance training. A Blind Faith Christian doesn’t like “resistance,” doesn’t like the uncertainty that comes with doubting, or asking questions. But to me a healthy Christian welcomes such resistance, because that’s how we grow spiritually. Asking deep and probing questions can lead to doubt, but in the process your faith grows stronger.

One of my past posts had a link, If you doubt and question … answers.yahoo.com. It asked, “If you doubt and question your faith will it become stronger?” Unfortunately that link won’t take you there now, but back then the “Best Answer” to the Yahoo question included this:

Remember Thomas, the disciple, who wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he put his hand into Jesus’s wounds. He went on to die spreading the gospel in Persia and India. God gave us free choice, He doesn’t want us to be robots, He could have made us like that, but wanted us to choose for ourselves. You learn and grow by questioning. 

In other words, there seem to be Christians who see The Faith of the Bible as a spiritual strait-jacket, a pre-shaped form into which “we” have to mold ourselves. This type of Christian also seems to believe that St. Peter will have some kind of checklist at the Pearly Gates, so that if you don’t answer every litmus test question exactly right you won’t get in. But aside from Jesus’s promise in John 6:37 – that He will never turn away anyone who comes to Him – there’s also Romans 10:9. That’s where Paul said that if you “declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

So much for litmus tests, so go out and experience life in all its fullness, like Thomas. And keep reading the Bible with an open mind. “The Bible was designed, to expand your mind…”

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Which brings us finally to a quirk in this year’s Bible readings. Normally the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25, which is back when I did the Daily Office reading for that Feast day. But strangely enough, the online Lectionary Page has that feast day listed for Monday, April 8, the day after the Second Sunday of Easter. It had been “transferred.”

So why the transfer? “Liturgically the solemnity of the Annunciation was moved to April 8 this year, as March 25 was during Holy Week and the focus was on Jesus’ Passion instead.” (See Why the Annunciation was moved to April 8 this year – Aleteia.) But I have some good excuses. Like noting beforehand March 25 as the day I should do those readings. Also, this year I got back from a canoe trip five miles off the coast of Mississippi on March 23, the day before Palm Sunday. Then came Holy Week, which is always a busy time.

But you could say it worked out for the best. I was so busy getting ready for the canoe trip that I didn’t have time to do my usual post on the Annunciation. Since this year it came the day after “Second Sunday,” I now have a good excuse for doing that missed post next time.

Which I will do next time, so stay tuned!

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El Greco’s view of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary

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The upper image is courtesy of The Rockox Triptych – Wikipedia. I used it in my second-ever post, in 2014, First musings – The readings for “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. I’m leaving it in its original form and format, which had no separate section for notes. The full caption I put in: ‘The Incredulity of St Thomas, or The Rockox Triptych, after the name of the donors, by Peter Paul Rubens (circa 1614),’as it relates to the Gospel reading for 4/27/14.I’ve also listed the following posts about Doubting Thomas Sunday, also known as Low Sunday and/or the Sunday after Easter Sunday: From 2015, Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India” from 2016, Doubting Thomas – and Peter Restored, On “Saint Doubting Thomas” – 2017, and On “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – 2017, from 2019, On Easter, Doubting Thomas Sunday – and a Metaphor, and from last year, On Doubting Thomas Sunday – 2023. My first-ever post – on the same subject and posted the same day as “First musings” – was The Bible – Lectionary Musings and Color Commentary. (Interesting reading for me.)

The Book of Common Prayer reference: The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

A note: This “Second Sunday” is also called – aside from names noted above – the Octave of Easter, the eight-day period starting on Easter Sunday and running to the Sunday following Easter.

On the Western Church and Latin, see The Evolution of Catholic Mass: From Latin to Vernacular.

Re: “Hunchback.” Incidentally, the character in the book Hunchback of Notre-Dame was named after those opening words of First Peter 2:2. (In the New International Version it reads, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”)

The lower image is courtesy of Annunciation Mary El Greco Painting – Image Results. It came with a page saying that in this painting…

…the interior of the room is filled with clouds and flashing lights, in a way that the objects surrounding the Virgin – the simple prie-dieu, the book opening like a fan, the sewing-basket and the vase – are removed from real space and saturated with mystic significance. The wide, emphatic arc of the drapery covering the Virgin’s knees seems only to make her small head and narrow, transfigured face appear as distant from us and as close to the heavenly messenger as possible.

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Happy “Eostre” – 2024!

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 The Germanic goddess Ēostre – or “Ostara” – who gave us the name of “Easter..”

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It’s that time of year again. After 46 days of Lent – 40 days mirroring the ones Jesus spent in the Wilderness, plus six Sundays “off*” – it’s time to celebrate another Happy Easter. But you may wonder, “Where and when did all this start?” In the biggest sense of course it all started with Jesus being raised from the dead after being crucified. But the name “Easter” itself has more worldly origins. And it all had to do with how good early Christians were at adapting to the circumstances around them. In other words, applying the Bible with an open mind

In further words, how did we get from Jesus and His resurrection to the “Easter Bunny, colorfully decorated Easter eggs, and Easter egg hunts?” It seems to have started around 1682:

The Easter Bunny (also called the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare) is a symbol of Easter, depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the “Easter Hare” originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient…  In legend, [he] carries colored eggs in his basket, candy, and sometimes also toys to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus or the Christkind, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holidays.

Then there’s the name “Easter” itself, which comes from Ēostre (or Eastre, or Ostara). She’s the pagan goddess of spring, celebrated by the Saxons of Northern Europe. They held a festival to honor her called Eastre during the spring equinox. Her “earthly symbol was the rabbit, which was also known as a symbol of fertility.” But unfortunately – as one site noted – Easter today has become “almost a completely commercialized holiday, with all the focus on Easter eggs and the Easter bunny being remnants of the goddess worship.” But that’s where we devout practicing Christians come in. To remind people of the real “reason for the season.”

Which brings us back to Jesus, and Easter Sunday. That’s the day we celebrate His resurrection from the dead, “described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion,” at Calvary, around 30 AD.  “It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.”

In other words it’s one of many alternating rhythms of “feasting and fasting” in the church year. All of which reminds us that “life is not all fun and games.” In further words, to have a mountaintop experience you have to climb the mountain. (Then once it’s over you have to climb back down again, to the slings and arrows of everyday life. That’s how you make spiritual progress, it seems to me.) In this case, the Disciples and other followers of Jesus had seen all their hopes dashed. They’d believed in Him, yet He ended up in a painful and humiliating death.

But in this case, Jesus “kicked death’s butt,” which was of course hard to believe at first, as shown by Rembrandt‘s painting, “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen.”

Mary Magdalen had just found Jesus’ grave empty, and asks a bystander what has happened. In her confusion she thinks the man is a gardener. Only when he replies with “Mary!” does she realize who she’s talking to. To illustrate Mary’s confusion, Jesus is often depicted as a gardener in this scene.

(Which you can check on your own, as illustrating Mark 16:1-8 and other Gospel accounts.)

And to support the claim that Jesus “kicked death’s butt,” see El Greco‘s painting – just below – of The Resurrection. It shows the Risen Jesus “in a blaze of glory … holding the white banner of victory over death.” In plain words, those of us who believe celebrate this day not because of Easter eggs or chocolate bunnies. We celebrate because by His sacrifice Jesus gave us all the power to become children of God.  And that ain’t exactly chopped liver

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Christ “in a blaze of glory,” finally victorious over death...

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The upper image is courtesy of Ēostre – Wikipedia. The caption: “Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts. The goddess flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman-inspired putti, beams of light, and animals. Germanic people look up at the goddess from the realm below.”

The Book of Common Prayer reference: The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

For this post I borrowed: From 2015 (mostly), On Easter Season – AND BEYOND. Also, from 2016, On Eastertide – and “artistic license.” From 2017, Frohliche Ostern – “Happy Easter!” From 2019, On Easter, Doubting Thomas Sunday – and a Metaphor. And finally, Happy Easter – April 2020!

Re: Jesus and the 40 days. Known as the Temptation of Christ: During His 40 days and nights of fasting in the Judaean DesertSatan came and tried to tempt Him. When Jesus “refused each temptation, Satan then departed… During this entire time of spiritual battle, Jesus was fasting.” Wikipedia.

Re: Days off during Lent. See 40 Days and 40 Nights [film] – Wikipedia, the 2002 film about “a San Francisco web designer who has chosen to abstain from any sexual contact for the duration of Lent.” As noted below, he could have had sex by virtue of the “Sundays off” aspect of Lent. See Why Sundays Don’t Count During Lent | Guideposts.

Re: The Rembrandt painting. The full link is “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen” – Art and the Bible. See also Rembrandt – Wikipedia, and/or Rembrandt van Rijn: Life and Work

Re: “Those of us who believe.” The citation is to 1st Corinthians 1:18, that the “message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The lower image is courtesy of “The Resurrection by El Greco,” and the Web Gallery of Art:

Christ is shown in a blaze of glory, striding through the air and holding the white banner of victory over death.  The soldiers who had been placed at the tomb to guard it scatter convulsively.  Two of them cover their eyes, shielding themselves from the radiance, and two others raise one hand in a gesture of acknowledgement of the supernatural importance of the event…   By excluding any visual reference to the tomb or to landscape, El Greco … articulated its universal significance through the dynamism of nine figures that make up the composition [in] one of the greatest interpretations of the subject in art.

See also Resurrection, 1584-94 by El Greco, and El Greco’s Resurrection: Ahead of its Time:  “El Greco considered spiritual expression to be more important than public opinion and it was in this way that he developed a unique style … as one of the great geniuses of Western art.”

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Jesus “Presented” – 2024

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This could be called the “Second Presentation” – by Pilate, as Jesus is about to be crucified

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Friday, February 2, 2024 was the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It recalls Mary and Joseph presentinJesus, as a baby, 40 days after His birth. (The birthday we celebrate as Christmas.) In doing so His parents followed a thousand-year-old custom that began with Moses. In Exodus 13:2, God told Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male:”

Counting forward from December 25 as Day One [for Jesus], we find that Day Forty is February 2. A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem.

Then there’s the painting above, of Jesus “presented” a second time. But this time it was Pontius Pilate, showing Him to the mob. A reminder that from the time of His first Presentation – at just over a month old – Jesus’ life was one long journey to that second presentation. (On the eve of making the sacrifice that would literally change history, if not “split history in two.”) 

In a similar way, February 2, 2024 marks the beginning of our own spiritual journey: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” And this year – as every church year – that journey goes through the rest of Epiphany Season, then to Mardi Gras, followed by Lent, then on into Easter Week. (A reminder that life is not all fun and games. It’s an alternating rhythm of good times and “challenges.” Put another way, an alternating rhythm of “feasting and fasting.”)

Getting back to the Presentation, it’s one of the most ancient Church feasts, dating back as far as the fourth century in Jerusalem. As to the original Presentation, where it all started:

Luke explicitly says that Joseph and Mary take the option provided for poor people (those who could not afford a lamb; Leviticus 12:8), sacrificing “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Leviticus 12:1–4… Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, they encountered Simeon[, who] had been promised that “he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). Simeon then uttered the prayer that would become known as the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon, which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus

But were Mary and Joseph really poor? Some might ask, “What happened to that gold, frankincense and myrrh that the Three Wise Men gave the parents?” (The gold could be easily spent, while the other two would be easily “hockable.”) A medieval Jesuit had this comment: “Although the three kings had offered to Christ a great quantity of gold, still the Blessed Virgin, zealously affected towards poverty, accepted but little of it, that she might show her contempt of all earthly things.” Which is as good an answer as any, but still, “Where whence those gifts?”

But that’s what people call a rabbit trail. A “convoluted discourse or tangential aside.” More to the point, could there be a deeper meaning of the Presentation in the Temple? According to the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, the answer is Yes.

Aside from Mary having to be purified, all male firstborns had to be “consecrated to God in a special way.” But there were two other elements to the story. First, the parents didn’t have to go to the Temple, so Mary and Joseph were being “extra devout by going to the Temple for this special day.” (And according to Google Maps, that’s at least a 33-hour hike of over 90 miles.)

Second, according to one Pope, Luke was saying that instead of being “redeemed” and restored to his parents, Jesus was personally handed over, “given over completely to God.” Thus:

The Presentation isn’t just another boring religious ritual. On the contrary, it is a deeply symbolic moment pointing to Jesus’s divine identity, and to Mary and Joseph’s perfect cooperation with His divine mission.

And speaking of handing over a life to God, the Daily Office for February 3, 2024, added another set of saints to remember, The Dorchester Chaplains. They were four chaplains who died rescuing other passengers when a German submarine torpedoed the American troop ship Dorchester on February 3, 1943. (In what was called “the second-worst sea disaster of World War II.”)

The chaplains helped the other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship.

All lieutenants, the group included “Methodist minister the Reverend George L. FoxReform Rabbi Alexander D. Goode (PhD), Catholic priest Father John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister the Reverend Clark V. Poling.”

Wikipedia added more detail, the gist of which is that panic set in when a torpedo knocked out the ship’s electrical system, at 1:00 in the morning in the stormy North Atlantic. The chaplains did what they could to calm passengers and organize the evacuation. They got life jackets, but when the preservers ran out the chaplains gave theirs to others. Then too, the jackets did little to protect against hypothermia in the frigid water; “hundreds of dead bodies were seen floating on the water, kept up by their life jackets.” Thus only 230 of the 940 passengers survived.

As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.

That’s according to one survivor. Others heard different languages in the chaplains’ prayers, “including Jewish prayers in Hebrew and Catholic prayers in Latin” as the ship sank. A reminder again “that life is not all fun and games,” and that we have been gifted. Despite all the troubles we see in the news, we are blessed to be alive and enjoy the upcoming church seasons.

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“Coast Guard Cutter USCGC ‘Escanaba‘ rescues ‘Dorchester’ survivors….”

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The upper image is courtesy of Pontius Pilate – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Ecce Homo (‘Behold the Man’), Antonio Ciseri‘s depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem.”

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

For this post I borrowed – in reverse order – On the Presentation of Jesus – 2/2/22, The “Presentation of our Lord” – 2020, and earlier, from 2017, On the FIRST “Presentation of the Lord.” The 2017 post included such details as the “quaint custom [which] came to be called ‘the churching of Women,’ starting – as far as we can tell – back in the Middle Ages, based on what Moses taught. The ritual was still offered by the Catholic Church until the 1960s, but then discontinued.” Which raised the question: “Since Mary hadn’t been ‘sullied’ in the normal manner of procreation,” why did she have to be “churched,” as Moses apparently commanded?  See also Presentation of Jesus – Wikipedia.

Re: “Today.” See Today – Wikiquote. The “rest of your life” quote is attributed to Charles Dederich, “the founder of Synanon, a self-help community for drug abusers and alcoholics, based in California.” See also And if that doesn’t work out… And about that gold, etc. It’s possible that the Wise Men arrived well after the Presentation, and so Mary and Joseph hadn’t gotten the gifts yet. They may have arrived “days, months, or possibly even years later.” What does the Bible say about the three wise men (Magi)? As to the value of the gifts, see Gold prized; frankincense, myrrh may have had more value, adding that the Gifts of Magi “foreshadowed Jesus’ life of kingship, divinity, and saving death.”

Re: “Medieval Jesuit.” Se Cornelius a Lapide (1567-1637), at the Wikipedia article about the Flemish Catholic priest, Jesuit and “exegete of Sacred Scripture.”

Also, on the February 3, see Four Chaplains – Wikipedia, with the lower image.

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Paul gets his sight back, Peter confesses – 2024

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St. Paul’s sight being restored – after his Damascus road experience

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In “Happy Epiphany, 2024” I wrote about January 6 as the Feast of Epiphany. That feast officially ends the Twelve Days of Christmas. It also marks the start of the Season of Epiphany, a church season running up to Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a solemn observance recalling the “40 days Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert and enduring temptation by Satan.” And irony of ironies, this year – 2024 – Ash Wednesday comes on February 14, the same day we celebrate Valentine’s Day. But first comes two other Feast Days, the Confession of St Peter, on January 18, and the Conversion of St Paul, on January 25.

Taking the “confession” first, on January 18 we celebrate Peter “confessing” that Jesus is the Christ (the Jewish Messiah): “Thou art the Christ, Son of the Living God.” In other words we recall how Peter was “led by God’s grace to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ” And we join with him – and with all other Christians – in “hailing Jesus as our Lord, God, and Savior.”

[The] Apostle Peter proclaims Jesus to be Christ – the Messiah. The proclamation is described in the three Synoptic GospelsMatthew 16:13-20Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20. The proclamation of Jesus as Christ is fundamental to Christology … and Jesus’ acceptance of the title is a definitive statement for it in the New Testament narrative.

But while January 18 recalls Peter as first apostle to confess Jesus as Messiah, on January 25 we recall how “Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus, formerly an enemy and persecutor of the early Christian Church, was led by God’s grace to become one of its chief spokesmen.” In other words, Peter came to his position of authority from “inside the church.” Paul on the other hand was pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into his position of authority.

Another note: Each June 25 we have a feast day for both Apostles together. But in January each year we remember both men separately. “Or more precisely, we remember how these two ‘Pillars of the Church‘ took two completely different paths to the same destination.” 

Which is another way of saying these two Church Fathers didn’t always see eye to eye. (As shown in the painting, “Two scholars disputing” below.) The Bible tells of one such dispute in Galatians 2:11-14, especially including verse 11, where Paul said, “When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong.” On the flip side is 2d Peter 3:16, where Peter commented on Paul’s style of writing: “He writes this way in all his letters… Some parts of his letters are hard to understand.” But in the end, and as noted above, “these two ‘Pillars of the Church‘ took two completely different paths to the same destination.” That “destination” was the task of bringing people to Jesus. (The same task all “good Christians” are charged with.)

Which brings us back to the Conversion of St. Paul. That special day – January 25 – recalls “an event in the life of Paul the Apostle that led him to cease persecuting early Christians and to become a follower of Jesus.” He wrote about his former life – as a devout and zealous enemy of the budding Christian church – in Galatians 1:13-14.  There he wrote about his being “extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”  Accordingly, he intensely “persecuted the church of God” – that is, the newly-formed Christian Church –  “and tried to destroy it.”  

For example, at the time of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:57-8:3), “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” And as Stephen was being stoned by the crowd, “the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (He later changed that to “Paul.”) But then he had his Damascus Road Experience (illustrated at the top of the post).

In other words – and as we view the term today – Paul had a “profound life-changing experience, that turned [him] from skepticism to belief.” Moving on, Paul himself was literally struck blind, for three days. And of that episode, Wikipedia notes three different accounts:

[The] third discussion of Paul’s conversion occurs when Paul addresses King Agrippa, defending himself against the accusations of antinomianism that have been made against him. This account is briefer than the others. The speech here is again tailored for its audience, emphasizing what a Roman ruler would understand: the need to obey a heavenly vision, and reassuring Agrippa that Christians were not a secret society.

So as I said, Paul was “dragged kicking and screaming into his position of authority.” And from there he became “the most important person after Jesus in the history of Christianity.” From that position of authority, Paul noted that above all we as good Christians are called on to be “ministers of reconciliation.” In plain words, we Americans should not be as polarized as we are now. Because, as Paul said in Galatians 3:28, in Christ “there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no liberal or conservative.” (Well, that’s what he would write if he was here today.)

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Some disputes, yes, but they “mostly worked together.” (A reminder….) 

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The upper image is courtesy of Conversion of Paul the Apostle – Wikipedia. The full caption:  “‘Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul’ (c.1631) by Pietro da Cortona.” See also Ananias of Damascus – Wikipedia, which noted his name means “favored of the LORD.”  The actual restoration of Saul-Paul’s sight was described in Acts 9:17-19 NIV:

Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized,and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

For this post I borrowed from 2016’s Peter confesses, Paul converts, 2017’s “Wouldn’t it be nice if WE could be ‘restored,” and On Saints Peter and Paul, January ’23.

On Paul as second only to Jesus: What influences did St. Paul have on Christianity? | Britannica. Paul is often considered to be the most important person after Jesus in the history of Christianity.” Emphasis added in the main text. On “ministers of reconciliation” see 2d Corinthians 5:18.

The lower image is courtesy of Albert Bierstadt Museum: Two Scholars Disputing REMBRANDT.

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“Happy Epiphany, 2024!”

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“Twelfth Night Merrymaking” – on a day we celebrate as the Epiphany sometimes got out of hand…

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I last posted on December 17, 2023. It’s now January 6, 2024.

Since that month-ago post I’ve gone through two family Christmases. One involved driving a thousand miles up to Massachusetts and back. The second came a week after the real Christmas, and both involved lots of pre-celebration preparation. (To get just the right gifts.) Then too, that first one involved catching some kind of nasty bug up in Wilkes-Barre PA, on the drive home. Which got me a “sore throat of Biblical proportions,” and had a dramatic impact on the second celebration as well. Which also means I’ve been going through lots of recuperation time, a recuperation helped in large part by generic NyQuil, DayQuil, and lots of new-discovered Vicks VapoCOOL Severe cough drops. (And by the way, “Those things work great!“)

But now it’s time to get back on track, with “Happy Epiphany, 2024!” And by the way, the Feast of Epiphany – celebrated each January 6 – officially ends the “12 days of Christmas:”

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season beginning on Christmas Day … that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide… The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January [and] celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day [or “Twelfth Night”] overlap.

Another tidbit: Aside from being called The Epiphany, it and the days close to it – and sometimes those days overlap – also include Plough MondayThree Kings Day (as in, “We Three Kings of Orient are”), and – as noted above – Twelfth Night. And speaking of “12th Night,” the custom of eating and especially drinking way too much became such a problem that it was banned in some places. For example, “Twelfth Night in the Netherlands became so secularised, rowdy and boisterous that public celebrations were banned from the church.”

There’s more information – on “Three Kings of Orient” and other holidays in the 12 days of Christmas – in the links in the notes below. But getting back to Epiphany, the Epiphany is the “Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as human in Jesus Christ:”

The observance [of Epiphany] was a general celebration of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It included the commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Magi [and] all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to and including his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist

One of those “childhood events” in the life of Jesus was His having to undergo circumcision. (A subject “good Christians” don’t like to talk about much.) That event is celebrated each January 1, as the eighth day after Jesus was born. (Assuming that happened on Christmas Eve.)

On January 1st, we celebrate the Circumcision of Christ. Since we are more squeamish than our ancestors, modern calendars often list it as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, but the other emphasis is the older. Every Jewish boy was circumcised (and formally named) on the eighth day of his life, and so, one week after Christmas, we celebrate the occasion when Our Lord first shed His blood for us. It is a fit close for a week of martyrs, and reminds us that to suffer for Christ is to suffer with Him. (E.A.)

See also Luke 2:21:  “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” That in turn was in accordance with Genesis 17:12:  “For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised.” And by the way, squeamish is defined as “easily shocked, offended, or disgusted by unpleasant things.” But unfortunately, such Unpleasant Things are a big part of life these days, and so something a Good Christian needs to get used to.

One other thing: January 6 also marks the start of the Season of Epiphany. That church season runs from the day of Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. In 2024 that comes on the same day as Valentine’s Day. (How’s that for irony?) And Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.

Put another way, Epiphanytide runs from January 6 to the Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday, which we know as Mardi Gras. All of which means Easter will come early this year, on March 31. And as if all that wasn’t enough, 2024 is also a Leap Year, meaning we get an extra day, on Thursday, February 29. And finally, there’s an election coming up in November, which “may determine the future of the Free World.” Here’s hoping for a happy and prosperous 2024…

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This year Ash Wednesday comes on Valentine’s Day. (A day after Mardi Gras…) 

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The upper image is courtesy of Twelfth Night (holiday) – Wikipedia. The full caption: “‘Twelfth Night Merry-Making in Farmer Shakeshaft’s Barn,’ from Ainsworth‘s ‘Mervyn Clitheroe,’ by Phiz.”

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

For this post I borrowed from 2016’s Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys,” 2017’s To Epiphany – “and BEYOND,” Happy Epiphany – 2018, and On the Epiphany SEASON – 2022. Also from On the 12 DAYS of Christmas – 2021-22, and – on a sadder note – Epiphany ’23, the end of Christmas and “farewell Mi Dulce.”

Re: 2024. See 2024 is a leap year. Here’s what to know and when Easter, other holidays are next year.

The lower image is courtesy of Mardi Gras – WikipediaCaptioned: “Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic Debris revelers on Frenchmen Street.”

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On the real “Saint Nick” – 2023

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The REAL Saint Nicholas – of Myra – “saved three innocents from death.”  (“Inter alia…”)

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December 17, 2023 – It’s that time of year again. Time to wonder – as if we don’t already have enough on our plate to worry about – Should Parents Tell Children the Truth About Santa? The short answer: Yes, there really is – or was – a Saint Nicholas. And actually, there are several foundational figures, prototypes for today’s “Santa Claus.” One of the first was Nikolaos of Myra.

He was a historic, bond fide 4th-century saint and Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of today’s Turkey). He was also called “Nikolaos the Wonderworker,” thanks to miracles “attributed to his intercession.” See Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, and also Saint Nicholas … Britannica:

Saint Nicholas, also called Nicholas of Bari or Nicholas of Myra [is] one of the most popular minor saints commemorated in the Eastern and Western churches and now traditionally associated with the festival of Christmas. In many countries children receive gifts on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day.

To which I would respond: “He doesn’t seem to be such a minor ‘saint’ these days.”

And speaking of corruption – nothing new these days – that brings up the three innocent men sentenced to death, in the painting atop the page. It was the “corrupt prefect Eustathios” who imposed the sentence. (After accepting bribes to “bring about the deaths of three men.”) This first St. Nicholas “was not one to be intimidated by the power of others, especially the power of the corrupt.” Accordingly, he “stormed into the prefect’s office and demanded that the charges against the three men be dropped.” Eustathios eventually “confessed … and sought the saint’s forgiveness.” Nicholas forgave him, but only after the ruler underwent a period of repentance. Which led me to think: “Boy, we could sure use him today!!!

Other stories told of Nicholas of Myra’s “love for God and for his neighbor.”  Like providing dowries for three poor unmarried daughters.  (Thus saving them from a life of prostitution.)  Or of three children killed and “pickled” by a butcher – during a time of extreme famine and cannibalism – who planned “to sell them off as ham.”  But Nicholas both “’saw through the butcher’s horrific crime’ and resurrected the three children from the barrel.”

And while it’s true that Christmas is only a week or so away, that famous festival is preceded by the Feast day of Thomas the Apostle (also known as “Doubting Thomas”), on December 21. And Thomas – in a big way – serves as a metaphor for all us “Doubters.”

That is, the term “Doubting Thomas” refers to a “skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience.” But as I’ve noted previously, that’s just what attending church and reading the Bible is supposed to provide: A chance at a direct and personal experience with the Force that Created the Universe. See also The Bible and mysticismwhich said that Christianity is all about “obtaining unity with God, through Christ.” So a mystic and a Christian both seek that “direct personal experience with God.:

In plain words there are two sides of the Christian experience:  The “corporate” or business side, and the “mystical” side.  The problem is that so many Christians get hung up on the “business side” of the Christian faith.  Mainly because it’s so much easier…  But it’s only the mystical side that can lead to a direct personal experience with God, and Thomas the Apostle is a reminder that – hard as that may be – it can be done….

On that note there’s the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, “a way to understand our four-sided approach to answering questions about Christian belief and practice.” Those four sides include Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. And of those four: “What Scripture teaches, tradition affirms and reason supports, must be experienced in Christian community and lives. Without authentic experience, we never move beyond the faith of the devils.” Put another way, “Apart from scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity.”

So here’s wishing you first a happy “original Doubting Thomas” day, then a happy “real St. Nick” festival day. And that if you haven’t found it already, that in the New Year coming up you can find that “direct personal experience with God.” (But not necessarily in the same way as those three “innocents condemned to death” at the top of the page…)

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Santa Claus – or “Saint Nick” – as pictured more recently…

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The upper image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center … Saint Who Stopped an Execution. 

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

Re: Santa. See also Should Parents Go Along With the Santa Myth? – Psychology Today.

For this post I borrowed from some of my earlier posts, On the original St. Nicholas (2014), On St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas” (2015), There really IS a “Saint Nick” (Virginia…), from 2017, and Santa saves three men, and “Doubting” shows the way (2018).

Re: Quadrilateral. See also The Wesleyan Quadrilateral – The Wesleyan Church.

The lower image is courtesy of Santa Claus – Wikipedia, captioned, “1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, along with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.” As to the original, see St. Nicholas Center ::: Saint Who Stopped an Execution, which told of his hearing the news, then rushing to the site of the planned execution:

Informed that their execution was to be carried out that morning, he hurried to the executioner’s field. Here he found a large crowd of people and the three men kneeling with their arms bound, awaiting the fatal blow. Nicholas passed through the crowd, took the sword from the executioner’s hands and threw it to the ground, then ordered that the condemned men be freed from their bonds. His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell…

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On Advent 2023 – “Happy New (Liturgical) Year!”

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The 2024 Church Year actually started on December 3, 2023 – as detailed in the text below…

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

The Book of Common Prayer says that by sharing Holy Communion, Christians become “very members incorporate in the mystical body” of Jesus. The words “corporate” and “mystical” are the key. They show that a healthy church has two sides. The often-overlooked “mystical” side asks, “How do I experience God?” This blog will try to answer that.

It has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (See John 6:37.) The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance. (John 10:10.) The third is that Jesus wants us to read the Bible with an open mind. As it says in Luke 24:45: “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” The fourth theme – and most often overlooked – is that Jesus wants us to do even greater miracles than He did. (John 14:12.) 

And this thought ties them together:

The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

Sunday, December 3, was the First Sunday of Advent. That began a four-week church season that calls us to look in four directions at once: “back to the past, forward to the future, upwards to heaven, and downwards to earth.” It is a time of anticipation, and not just for Christmas:

The first Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year, and yet there is a continuity with the end of the liturgical year just finished… One does not have to be a prophet of doom to recognize that this year [2020] has been filled with terrible events… We need God to come and fix a broken world. The season of Advent is about [the] “devout and expectant delight” that God will do that.

Those comments were from a blogger back in 2020, and he was right. That year was filled with bad events that presented a host of problems, old and new. They included a just-new COVID epidemic and the Election That Seemed Like It Would Never End. (And looks to continue – “Part Two” – later in the calendar year 2024.) But then again, “man is born to trouble as as sparks fly upward. So it seems like this upcoming year too will present even more daunting problems.

But rather than opening up that can of worms, let’s get back to the start of Advent.

For one thing, Advent actually starts with the Feast of St. Andrew. He’s the disciple who met Jesus first, then brought his brother Peter along to meet Him too. As such he is called the “First Apostle,” and this year his feast day came on Thursday, November 30. The National Catholic Register said he was “one of Jesus’ closest disciples, but many people know little about him.” Which is another way of saying he was pretty important, but often overlooked:

Andrew was “one of the four disciples closest to Jesus, but he seems to have been the least close of the four…   That’s ironic because Andrew was one of the first followers[.  In fact,] because he followed Jesus before St. Peter and the others – he is called the Protoklete or ‘First Called’ apostle.”

See also Who Was Andrew the Apostle? The Beginner’s Guide. See the notes for cites to past posts, with a host of information on things like Advent Calendars, and also tradents. (They helped the men with the pen understand those “cheat sheets” that were the earliest Bible scrolls.) But for now it’s enough to repeat that Advent as a church season has been around a long time. For example, starting about 300 A.D. Advent was “kept as a period of fasting as strict as in Lent.” But then around 1917 the Catholic Church “abolished the precept of fasting …  but kept Advent as a season of penitence.” But it’s also a time of “joyful anticipation.”

Another thing to note is that for three of the four Sundays of Advent, the Old Testament readings – in many churches – will be from the prophet Isaiah, shown below:

Isaiah is the prophet who guides our journey through Advent as we prepare for Christmas. Advent is a season of joyful anticipation, and Isaiah invites us to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord.


Beyond that, Isaiah urges us to straighten out our crooked ways, tear down our mountains of misdeeds, and fill in the valleys of our bad habits.” Which sounds a lot like lyrics from Handel’s Messiah, a fixture of the Christmas season: “Woe to the concert hall in the United States or Britain that fails to schedule the piece around the holiday, when, as well, CD sales and Web downloads of the oratorio soar.” So have a Happy Advent, full of joyful anticipation…

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The prophet Isaiah, featured in this season’s Advent O.T. readings…

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The upper image is courtesy of Happy New Year 2024 – Image Results. The full link in the caption is Calendar of the Church Year – The Episcopal Church, noting Advent as the “first season of the church year, beginning with the fourth Sunday before Christmas.” See also Liturgical year – Wikipedia.

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

For this post I borrowed, from 2016, On Andrew – “First Apostle” – and Advent, December 2020, Advent, and a “new beginning,” Advent 2021 – “Enjoy yourself…”,” and On Advent 2022 – and St. Andrew, from December 7 of that year, with information on Advent Calendars, including a cite to Advent calendars are raking it in while counting it down. Also, On Advent ’22, Tradents, and “Scriptio continua.” (12/21/22)

“Advent calls us to look back.” See the post by Boston College‘s Matthew Monnig. And the “man is born to trouble” quote is from Job 5:7.

The Old Testament reading not from Isaiah – on December 24, the last Sunday of Advent – is 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16. (Where David and the prophet Nathan discuss building a house for God, and God responds, in essence, “Did I ask you to build a house for me?”)

The full “Handel’s Messiah” link is The Glorious History of Handel’s Messiah – Smithsonian Magazine.

The lower image is courtesy of Isaiah – Wikipedia, with the full caption, “Isaiah, by Michelangelo, (c. 1508–1512, Sistine Chapel ceilingVatican City).” See also, on “the prophet who guides our journey”: Isaiah: Old Testament prophet for the Advent season.

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes. The first is that God will accept anyone. (John 6:37, with the added, “Anyone who comes to Him.”) This is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. From the Old Testament, Psalm 9:10, “You never forsake those who seek you, O Lord.” (In the Version in the Book of Common Prayer.) The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.) The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus. (John 14:12). A fourth theme: The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity. According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable… Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians. They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.” But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…  (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…) Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.” See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by“learning the fundamentals.” But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.” 

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg

However, after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training. And as noted in “Buck private,” one of this blog’s themes is that if you want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*” In other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.” See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001. The related image at left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.”

Re: “mystical.” Originally, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.” See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”) See also Christian mysticism – Wikipedia, “In early Christianity the term ‘mystikos’ referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative… The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.” As to that “experiential” aspect, see also Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Wikipedia, on the method of theological reflection with four sources of spiritual development: scripturetradition, reason, and “Christian experience.”

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR

Thanksgiving 2023 – and an “epileptic Rabbit Trail…”

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“Jesus heals an epileptic” – But did Matthew really know that “modern medical term?”

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I’ll get to Thanksgiving in a bit, but first want to say something about a tendency to go down Rabbit Trails. I do a lot of that in my writing. That’s why my family and others say my writing “goes all over the place.” Like, sometimes I go “off on a crazy tangent” or make crazy turns in writing. But I like rabbit trails, even as I try to follow that rule about Unity and Coherence in Writing. Which brings up a Bible passage I saw in Monday morning’s Daily Office Readings.

The Gospel was Matthew 17:14-2. In the Lectionary – Satucket version, Matthew 17:15 reads, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly.” That made me wonder. I’ve been doing the Daily Office since 1992, and am now on my 15th trip through the Bible. But this is the first time in those 31 years that that passage caught my eye. “Is that how it’s written in Greek? Did the Hebrews or Greeks know that much about epilepsy?”

Which turned out to be another rabbit trail, which is nothing new for me.

Like some time ago my Daily Office reading included Psalm 46:9, “He makes wars cease… He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” That made me wonder. Why specifically burn shields, those broad pieces of “defensive armor carried on the arm?” So I “rabbit trailed” and learned that in the original Hebrew, the word – translated “shields” – refers to “Something revolving, a wheeled vehicle.” More precisely, a chariot, the offensive tank of its day. Which means going down rabbit trails can be educational, so here’s the latest one.

 It seemed to me – Monday morning – that the term “epilepsy” sounded way too modern for Matthew to use. So first off I went to the Bible Hub website. I wanted to see how the verse got translated in the King James Bible. (You know, the one God uses?) There the passage reads, “Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed.” And most other translations read that the son had “seizures.” So I wondered, was this one of those new, updated translations that conservatives call “undignified?” (As departures from the “real” Bible, as noted by Garry Wills?) As for example, 1st Corinthians 14:6, where the original Greek reads, “Now brothers…” But some updated modern versions read, “Now brothers and sisters.” To that I’d say, “Use ‘brothers and sisters’ now, as long as we know how the original version read.”

Be all that as it may, that Matthew 17:15 rabbit trail led me to “something new under the sun:”

The ancient Greeks also began to speculate on the causes of epilepsy at this time – in fact the word ‘epilepsy’ comes from the Greek word for ‘to seize’ or ‘to attack’ because they believed seizures were caused by demons grabbing or attacking people. Some … also believed that epilepsy was a divine gift and a sign of genius and they called it the ‘sacred disease.’

None of which I knew, but learned about – just this past Monday morning, for the first time – from The history of epilepsy – the ancient world | Epilepsy blog. The article said that Hippocrates – who died in 370 BC, “father of medicine” – took issue with the idea that epilepsy was a “sacred disease ” idea. He said, of “the disease called ‘sacred[:]’ It is not, in my opinion, any more divine or more sacred than any other diseases, but has a natural cause … the fact is that the cause of this affection … is the brain.” The article concluded, “This is arguably when epilepsy was discovered.” In other words, some time around 400 B.C., or almost 500 years before Matthew wrote his Gospel, some Greeks knew about epilepsy. (Though the article added that “Hippocrates’s beliefs were not widely understood at the time and most people in the ancient world still thought seizures were caused by demons.”)

Which means there’s no clear cut answer to the question, “Was ‘epilepsy’ too modern a term for Matthew to use?” Or it could be said the answer “lies somewhere in between.” Maybe Matthew didn’t know the full technical term “epilepsy” as we understand it today. On the other hand the general term used back then did cover a lot of linguistic territory. It mostly referred to “seizures,” as generally translated in most Bibles. Which also is nothing new.

That is, the situation also resembles the faulty translation of “leprosy” from the Hebrew word ẓaraʿat. While traditionally translated at “leprosy,” the Greek translation for this word too “covers a wide range of diseases that produced scales.” And the original Hebrew word ẓaraʿat too embraced “a variety of skin ailments, including many non-contagious types.” Which also means, “There he goes again, going down one of those dang rabbit trails!”)

Which means in turn that it’s about time we got back to Thanksgiving 2023. Put another way, “What do all those rabbit trails have to do with the American holiday every November?” I’ll get to that in a minute, but first a note: “Thanksgiving” in America actually started a long time before 1863, when that day was made a nationwide holiday by Abraham Lincoln. And for that matter even long before 1621, with the first “Pilgrim Thanksgiving” in Plymouth Massachusetts.

For Native Americans – the first inhabitants – “gathering to give thanks was already a familiar custom, taking place not just annually, but 13 times throughout the lunar, calendar year – a cycle known as the Thirteen Moons. As one Wampanoag said, “Thanksgivings are a big part of our culture. Giving thanks is how we pray.” (The Wampanoags were the tribe who helped the Pilgrims survive their first winter, when half of them died.)

In other words, special days of thanksgiving have been around a long, long time. And as it also turns out, for a very good reason: “As more researchers dig into the science of gratitude, they’ve found the feeling likely played a key role in helping our ancestors band together and survive.” Which turns up another rabbit trail. “Who knew there was a science of gratitude?”

But there is, and it has a definite healing effect: “Thanking others, thanking ourselves, Mother Nature, or the Almighty[,] gratitude in any form can enlighten the mind and make us feel happier.” Which is why our annual Thanksgiving and all its other forms have stuck around so long: “That legacy continues today, as being in the mood for gratitude shapes who we are as a species and how we connect with the people around us.”

Which could be another rabbit trail, but it’s time to bring this post to an end. To end with the custom in many families for each member, around the table, to say specifically what he or she is thankful for this Thanksgiving 2023. So I’ll start: I’m thankful for the chance to go down all those rabbit trails, and keep on learning new things, every day, through the magic of blogging.

Now, if I could just make those blog-posts all unified and coherent.

Happy Thanksgiving – 2023!

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The “First Thanksgiving,” as envisioned by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

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The upper image is courtesy of Epilepsy Images Bible – Image Results. The image is attributed to “Wilhelm Tell,” not William Tell. (Which is the name I usually got in my Google Search.)

The Book of Common Prayer reference. The “corporate-mystical” prayer is on page 339, the post-communion prayer for Holy Eucharist, Rite I.

The full link to the Rabbit Trail comments is Today’s Idiom Is … Rabbit Trail.

For more on my tendency to go down Rabbit Trails see On Halloween 2023 – and a Sheol “rabbit trail,” which in turn borrowed fromthe lower part of the text in On Eastertide – and ‘artistic license,’ from 2016.Also on the topic of epilepsy see Is epilepsy mentioned in the Bible? | GotQuestions.org.

Re: Garry Wills. In his “What Jesus Meant” Wills noted a general conservatism in Bible translations, as for “reverential archaisms.” The result? Whenever a new translation comes out “it is almost always called undignified,” in that it departs from the King James Version. He added that the original Koine was a rough-hewn, “pidgin” marketplace Greek, often clumsy and muddled so much that translators invariably “try to give more churchiness to the evangelists.” Pages xi to xii, “Note on translation.”

Re: “Something new under the sun.” See contra, Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Re: “Brothers,” or “brothers and sisters.” The Bible Hub commentary to 1st Corinthians 14:6 said the Greek brothers (ἀδελφοί (adelphoi) – “Vocative Masculine Plural” – referred to a “brother, member of the same religious community, especially a fellow-Christian. A brother near or remote.”

As for Thanksgiving itself, see past post I borrowed from, like On Thanksgiving 2019, On Thanksgiving – 2021, and from 2022’s On Thanksgiving 2022 – and an Unknown American Icon. They detail things like the story of John Howland, who came over on the Mayflower as an indentured servant, who was swept overboard in mid-Atlantic and almost drowned, but who went on to populate America with 2 million of his descendants. And how less than half the original Pilgrims survived the first year, and how of the 18 women, only four survived. (And other juicy details.)

The “giving thanks” quotes are from Thanksgiving is a year-round practice of giving thanks : NPR, and Giving thanks isn’t just a holiday tradition. As Wikipedia also noted, Days of Thanksgivng were celebrated quite often in England. One such nationwide day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1588, after the victory over the Spanish Armada. Another “unusual annual Day of Thanksgiving” began in 1606 following the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, but that day then evolved into Guy Fawkes Day

The Wampanoag taught the first Pilgrims “how to cultivate the varieties of corn, squash, and beans (the Three Sisters) that flourished in New England, as well as how to catch and process fish and collect seafood.” (Wikipedia.)

The lower image is courtesy of Thanksgiving – Wikipedia, caption: “Jennie Augusta BrownscombeThe First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts.” 

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